About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Isolation Photography III

Spofford Lakeside

Bud Season

I hope you are all well and sane as we continue with our isolation.  I am trying to appreciate how lucky I am during these difficult times.  My isolation is within the confines of a comfortable house with a wife who has yet to express the desire to murder me.  I have lots to keep me busy, including getting back on my schedule of weekly blogs and I live in a lovely New Hampshire village with opportunities to walk around the neighborhood and along the woodland trails of our local forests. 

I hope you are all getting out to enjoy the warming spring weather. Last week I discussed the photographic opportunities outside in the New England early spring “stick season”, but an exciting part of spring is that the attractions keep changing and getting better.  It’s not just sticks anymore.  Next up for the spring hit parade is the bud season.

Given the relatively short growing season, as soon as conditions allow, our outdoor greenery tends to explode from its winter dormancy.  Right now, we can catch everything from swelling buds to early spring flowers all combined with the remnants of last year’s growth.

Winter Trap

This time of year, it is all about shooting close, but you don’t need special equipment to photograph the varied signs of early spring.  You can capture great shots with a simple point & shoot camera or even your smart phone.  
iPhone 7 of  Rhododendron
The smart phones usually can capture close-ups and have the advantage (and disadvantage) of remarkable wide depth of field.  Of course, great equipment can help obtain quality sharp images, but the most important thing is to get out there, walk slow, and scan for interesting signs of new growth.  You don’t have to go far.  Prudent measures of social distancing allow me to roam the countryside in my car, but almost all my recent early spring images have come from within an easy walk around my Spofford Village neighborhood.  There is a wonderful variety of buds and new leaves, along with both domestic and wildflowers, all straining to explode into exuberant new life.

24-100mm with Extension Tube
Of course, good equipment is helpful.  On my recent walks I have set aside my favorite 24-104 mm lens for my 100mm Macro.  The 100mm makes it a great portrait lens and its macro capabilities get me to that magic 1:1 ratio that is especially good for capturing the first signs of the spring awakening.  Happily, you don’t have to buy an expensive macro lens to get close.  Both close-up lens and extension tubes are considerably cheaper although not as convenient.

for a nice discussion about extension tubes

Rododendro Bud with 24-104 mm + Extension Tube

Finding Focus
The key to striking spring macro images is to find the fresh buds in good light and at a time when the wind is not strong.  Depth of field is often a challenge with macro photography.  The ability to stop down to small apertures may be limited when the subjects are blowing in the breeze and long exposure only produce an artistic blur.  Higher ISO levels can allow shorter exposures but at the cost of image quality and noise.  It usually becomes a matter of compromise to find the best solution.   Focus stacking is another option but blending the images can also be challenging when the subject is being blown about.   When a subject cannot be fully in focus, the challenge is to pick the critical portions to bring into sharpness.  It is remarkable how much soft focus the eye can forgive as long as areas of sharpness draw attention to key elements.  

More to Come
Folded Ferns / Mid May
Over the next few weeks, the swelling buds will open, and we will be able to enjoy a wide array of fantastical new growth.  This is one of my favorite time of spring.  It doesn’t last long.  Be vigilante.  Images from previous years show that this will be best from now through mid May.  So get outside and keep looking down, just don’t walk into a tree!

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG

Monday, April 6, 2020

Isolation Photography 2 (Outside)

Out on a Hike :Ashuelot River, Keene NH

County Champion Red Oak
Friedsam Town Forest, Chesterfield
I hope everyone is still managing to stay healthy and sane as we practice crucial measures for social distancing and personal protection from the Corvid 19 virus.  On the “keeping sane” front, last week I discussed how we can explore within our homes for interesting photographic subjects.  Possibilities included pets and floral photography as well as macro photography to study the details of everyday things. I also mentioned that I have taken advantage of all my free time to catch up on editing the volumes of untouched images that I have collected from previous travels and from the wonderful progression of our New England seasons.  There is much within our homes to keep our photography interesting and creative, but with proper precautions, there should be no reason to restrict our shooting within our walls.  With simple precautions, we can step outside, take a drive, a hike in the woods or just a stroll around the neighborhood.  

Early spring “stick season” can be drab, but life is returning to the landscape.  With eyes open, you will be surprised by the beauty that is all around.  Here are just a few suggestions of what photographic wonders you may find as you venture out into our early New England spring.

Look for Patterns
Maple Swallowing
During the stick seasons of both November and the early spring, much of my photography is focused on patterns in nature.  Bare branches, twigs, dead leaves, fences, and stonewalls can all be captured in interesting arrangements forming strong compositions.  Once you start looking, the patterns are everywhere.  Most days I walk along the same loop through my Spofford Village neighborhood.  It is all very familiar, but I always seem to find new things to shoot.  The weather or light may be different, or I may find fresh compositions or angles on scenes that I pass every day. Don’t be afraid to experiment.  After all those pixels are free.

Ice Out on the Edge

Try Black and White

In the spring, the subtle shades of color can be striking, but this is also a time when black and white images can be used to highlight the patterns.  When shooting for black and white, I always capture the original images in color, and later convert to B&W.  The underlying color information can be used to lighten or darken corresponding areas of the monochrome image.

I converted a simple picture of a twig on the ground to black and white, and I was able to darken the greens and yellows to highlight the curving form of the pine branch.  These sorts of adjustments are available in Lightroom, Photoshop and most other image editing programs.

New Life
In the early spring there are signs of new life.  A couple of weeks ago shoots of green had pushed through the snow and now the brave Crocuses are reaching up towards the light.  

The buds on the trees are beginning to swell and in just a few weeks they will be exploding into bizarre arrays of early growth.

Crocus Blooms

I have always been a fan of the beautiful patterns and colors of New England’s ubiquitousLichens.  Lichen is actually a symbiotic composite organism combining a fugus superstructure in which lives a photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria.  When you start looking you will see that Lichen covers much of the substance of New England. Stone walls, boulders and even trees are hosts.  Spring, when the forests aren’t choked with leaves, is a great time to view and photograph the underappreciated Lichens.

Animals Emerge
On a much grander scale than the lowly Lichen, spring is a time when animals become more active.  If you are persistent, patient and lucky, you may capture squirrels, chipmunks, deer and many wild birds.  Visiting a nearby farm, you can find sheep, cows and horses all feeding on the new grass.  

On a recent walk, a passerby directed my attention to a juvenile eagle perched high above Spofford Lake.  The bird stayed in the tree long enough for me to run home and return with my long lens. 

I steadied my 800mm Lens (actually 400mm with a 2x extender) on my car roof and, with a rapid shutter speed, I was able to get some steady,  views of this magnificent raptor. 

Past Life
Spring is also decorated by the remains of the previous season’s growth.  Fallen leaves can be seen in various patterns of decay on the ground or floating on ponds and streams.  Recently I found a nice collection of Cat-o’-nine tails bunched in a patch of wetland next to Spofford lake.  Spring is also a great time to get a clear view of the weathering of old trees and stumps.

Beech trees are remarkably persistent members of our New England forests. During winter and spring their bright yellow leaves tenaciously cling to the branches and add color to an otherwise dull landscape.  I always look for ways to include these splashes of color in my compositions.

Beech Forest Spofford NH

The Usual

West River Sunset Brattleboro Vt
The Golden Hours
Of course, in additional to the special spring stuff, there are many of the usual New England attractions to be seen as you venture away from home.  Sunsets and sunrises should be as glorious as during any other time of year. Although I wonder if the reduction in vehicular air pollution might mute the rosy glory of the golden hours. 

It is easy to capture brilliant color in a sunset, but try to make the image about more than just a splash of garish color. Find something interesting in the foreground that tells a story and places the viewer within the scene. 

Moon Rising
"Super" Moon over Monadnock
The fullmoon will be rising on Tuesday evening (4/7)  and will be the biggest this year. Moonrise in Keene will be in the east (92.8 deg) at 6:58 pm, although as we look over the hills, we will see it later.  Try to catch the moon close to the horizon when there is still some light in the sky, the “blue hour”, and find a spot where you can place something interesting in the foreground.

Flowing Water
Partridge Brook Chesterfield NH
Finally, early spring is the best time to explore the many spectacular local waterfalls.  The Run-off and spring rains swells our streams and that is why I schedule my annual Waterfall Weekend Workshop for this time off year.  The weekend is always an exciting adventure.  

This year the workshop is set for May 15th – 17th, but, unless we all travel in separate cars,  it seems unlikely that we will be able gather for the event.  This stupid virus has already squashed two of my classes, but I can always hope.  Meanwhile there is nothing preventing us from photographing waterfalls on our own.  Just stay distant from the crowds.  Remember to bring a tripod and polarizer to cut through the reflections and soften the rushing water.  And try not to slip on the wet leaves into the freezing water - not all of the dangers out there are related to a nasty virus. 

Chesterfield Gorge Bridge

Gnarled Stump Spofford NH

I hope you are doing well, healthy and safe, and that this discussion will get you going on your own exploration beyond the confines of your home and into the growing beauty of our New England spring.  Let me know what interesting subjects you find.

Maybe I will see you out there – just stay safely distant!

Spofford Village NH

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG